Major operators offer all-inclusive cruise/tour packages especially for the U.S. audience.
Let's say you are an experienced cruiser who has done Europe twice. You have seen the north from Dover to St. Petersburg via the Baltic Sea; and sailed from Barcelona to Istanbul via the Mediterranean . You might think you have seen it all, but you have not really begun to cruise Europe until you try a river voyage.
Take it from me. I have sailed on the Danube, the Rhine,the Rhone and more. I have sailed through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and France. The one cruise in my life I consider to be the most interesting was a 10-day cruise through Russia, from Moscow to St. Petersburg, along the Stalin Canal and the Moscow River on Viking River Cruises.
Why a River Cruise? The advantages of a riverboat cruise are obvious: You can see land all day long; the boats are small enough to dock close to the city center; and you can visit great inland destinations inaccessible to cruise ships, like Paris, Vienna, Cologne, Prague and Budapest. You see the rolling countryside all day long -- fields and meadows that lead to small villages and major cities, often punctuated by medieval estates or vistas of flowers or crops. And one last obvious advantage: There is very little chance you will get seasick.
Some people who take river cruises think of them as an alternative to bus tours, but river cruises are more similar to ocean-going cruises than many travelers realize. You board the boat and unpack once, settling into your stateroom for the entire trip. All meals are included in the price and taken in the boat's dining room, or sometimes as box lunches on the longer tours. There is a shore excursion usually every day, and often two per day, separated by lunch back on the boat in most cases. At night you enjoy long gourmet meals with fellow passengers, followed by a little entertainment, and then to bed.
But they are also different from ship-based cruises in significant ways. In most cases, river cruises are priced as an all-inclusive package, with air fare from the United States, transfers from the airport to the riverboat, and all meals and shore excursions covered in the price. Riverboats tend to be a bit more regimented than cruise ships -- in most cases, everyone takes the same tours and eats a fixed menu at the same mealtimes (there is one simple choice, meat or fish). However, the meals are prepared by gourmet European chefs using the finest and freshest ingredients, and are served in proper European style, including wine and a cheese course at the end of the meal.
River cruising is a popular, mature industry in Europe -- moreso than the U.S. -- and its growth in the last decade has been phenomenal due to its discovery by Americans. The closest examples we have in the U.S, are the Delta Queen steamboats (plus some Columbia River itineraries). But, European riverboats tend to be modern and elegantly furnished with just two or two and a half passenger decks, they have to be short enough to go under bridges. The exceptions are the Russian vessels which generally have tiny cabins and more passenger decks. There is more emphasis on gourmet meals and sightseeing on these riverboats and less emphasis on tradition.
Customized for Americans The major European river operators favored by U.S. passengers offer meals and shore excursions tailored to the American audience, with English-speaking tour guides and destinations known to be of interest to them. One of the newest yet most formidable lines with heavy focus on the U.S. market is Viking River Cruises with U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles, offering 20 different cruises in Europe plus Russia and Yangtze River cruises. But there are other companies as well with their own unigue styles offering European river cruises; Uniworld and Amadeus Waterways, also based in Los Angeles, and Deilmann Cruises, with U.S. headquarters in Alexandria, Va.
On any one of these companies you can find river cruises in Spain, France, Italy, The Netherlands, and beyond to Odessa on the Black Sea and St. Petersburg on the Baltic. The regular season runs from April to Late October, but most of them also offer Christmas Holiday cruises. Some of the most outstanding itineraries are the Tulip cruise through Holland, The Rhine Festival of Fire, The Russian River cruises from Moscow to St Petersburg (or vice versa), and the Rhine and Danube rivers including Cologne and Vienna. In addition, some of these companies also offer cruises on the Yangtze River in China, and the Nile in Egypt.
Prices are surprisingly reasonable when you figure in the cost of airfare, shore excursions, wine with dinner, and the cruise itself. Accommodations tend to be on the small side, though suites are available for a higher price (and worth it, in my opinion); but much of your time is spent out on the top deck, watching the scenery go by. Most riverboats carry 200 passengers or less, and the tours are varied according to nationality. In most cases, an American passenger will be on a boat with other Americans, or groups of British or other English speakers. Large groups connected by some kind of affinity are common on these vessels, but individuals are catered to as well. On my Rhine River cruise, half the passengers were British citizens; one third were members of a large group from the U.S., affiliated with a church; and the rest were known as the "on your own" group. All the Americans usually went on the same tour, while the Brits had their own tours, though it was possible to mix it up.
The typical river cruise in Europe is seven to 12 days. Pre-cruise and post-cruise hotel stays are often offered as part of the package. A typical pre-cruise offering is a stay in Prague which is not on any navigable river, but you fly into the city for a two-night hotel stay, and then you are bussed to the river boat on the third day. This is all conveniently pre-arranged by the cruise line. Since these cruises tend to start and end in some of Europe's most exciting cities, hotel add-ons should be considered - they are quite reasonable.
European river cruise offerings for 2007:
Uniworld - www.uniworld.com Uniworld's refurbished River Baroness will inaugurate a nine-day Paris and Normandy itinerary this spring, sailing the Seine from Paris through Northern France to the beaches of Normandy and then back to Paris.
Uniworld has invested millions of dollars in its fleet - and the recent updates on the River Baroness are a good example. It includes a marble lobby, reading room, and lavishly appointed staterooms, all outside-facing with individually controlled air-conditioning, beds draped with European-style comforters, and a choice of pillows. Private bathrooms are stocked with thick towels, aromatherapy bath amenities and plush terrycloth robes. Flat-screen TVs offer a selection of viewing choices.
The Paris and Normandy Grand River Cruise on the River Baroness is priced from $2,498 per person and includes roundtrip air, transfers, all meals, and seven shore excursions with English-speaking guides. The Captain's Welcome and Farewell Dinners, the services of a Uniworld cruise manager, onboard entertainment and lectures are also included.
Uniworld has 21 vessels sailing in Europe, Russia, China, Asia and South America on 20 itineraries. The company offers seven to 21-night cruises in Europe, including Dutch and Belgian waterways, the Rhine, and the Danube, from Vienna and Budapest to the Black Sea. The line also has cruises from Amsterdam to Vienna, Budapest or Constanta; and cruises through France, Northern Italy and on the Douro River through Portugal and Spain. <<-- Brand New River Royale Riverboat from Uniworld
Music, Art, and Wine themes are highlighted on many departures.
- Features included in a Uniworld Cruise:
- Food and service adjusted to North American tastes
- Only English-speaking passengers
- All outside cabins
- Shore Excursions are included
- Uniworld Cruise Manager
- No-smoking policy onboard
Viking River Cruises - www.vikingriver.com Viking River Cruises offers European river itineraries, China river trips along the Yangtze, and Russian river cruises. All-inclusive vacation packages include roundtrip air, the cruise, shore tours with English-speaking guides, deluxe river view cabins and gourmet meals.Viking River Boat Lounge (Typical for Riverboat)
Viking River Cruises was established by a Scandinavian and Dutch consortium experienced in cruising. With 25 ships, Viking River showcases the rivers of Europe, Russia, the Ukraine and China; in Europe, cruises cover the Rhine, Main, Moselle, Danube, Elbe, Seine and Rhône; in Russia the Volga and Moscow Rivers as well as the Stalin Canal; and new since 2004, China's Yangtze. You can sail on Viking River all the way from Amsterdam to Odessa on th Black Sea.
Viking River Cruises offers all-inclusive vacations in high quality accommodations. All itineraries are designed to provide travelers with comprehensive sightseeing opportunities and feature:
- Attentive personal service including an experienced cruise manager
- Gourmet dining and regional specialties
- In Europe & Russia, the "Old World Highlights" program features folkloric entertainment, lectures and demonstrations and daily shore excursions led by English-speaking guides
- In China, fully-escorted vacations have English-speaking guides, guided tours and cultural highlights
- Accommodations are in outside, river view cabins with private bathroom and shower
- Many cabins have hotel-style beds and picture windows that open
- Intimate, deluxe ships average 150 passengers for Europe and 186 for China
- Public areas include single-seating restaurants, bar, and lounge
- Modern nautical equipment meets the highest safety standards
Peter Deilmann Cruises - www.deilmann-cruises.com Peter Deilmann Cruises, with 10 river vessels, has operated European river cruises since 1983. The company won numerous awards for cuisine and service from Condé Nast Traveler's Gold List, Travel & Leisure and Porthole magazine. It claims to be the only river company dedicated solely to four- and five-star cruising. The company notes its cruises are for those who want to experience the cultural interaction of Americans and Europeans vacationing together.
The company claims the 1987-built (2004 refurbished) MV Mozart to be "the most luxurious river vessel in the world." She has a total of 100 cabins, of which 97 are outside and are identical in size at 203 square feet except two suites at 406 square feet. Some are configured as twins, others with a queen-size bed. All feature built in wardrobe, color TV, mini bar, dressing table, sofa, coffee table, shower and toilet, telephone, audio entertainment center and large picture windows. Bathrooms are equipped with a hairdryer and terry robes. Bedding is a European-style duvet with feather pillows and eiderdowns (synthetic materials available upon request). Cruises are typically seven nights
Amadeus Waterways - www.amadeuswaterways.com Amadeus specializes in cruises upon European rivers with two ships sailing different itineraries throughout the season, plus one ship on the Nile River, and another exploring the Russian waterways. The common language on all of their vessels, though their staff members come from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and Switzerland.
- MS AMALEGRO & MS AMADAGIO
- Deluxe cruise accommodation in 160 - 170 sq.ft. outside cabins with hotel-style beds that can be set up as 2 twin beds or one large double bed
- Junior Suites with 236 - 255 sq.ft. on the upper deck available for your most sophisticated guests
- Guaranteed share program for single travelers (Cat. B only)
- Restaurant: Superb dining with all meals included in the elegant restaurant, which accommodates all guests in one seating without fixed seating arrangements. "Hot station" at buffet breakfast, Gourmet cuisine with selected European specialties
- Welcome Reception and Farewell Gala Dinner
- Quality wines from Europe's most famous wine regions included with every dinner during cruise
- Special highlights including folklore performances, lectures, theme dinners, local activities
- Wellness Center (ms Amadagio) and massages
- Sun Deck: Whirlpool (ms Amadagio), Lido bar/Sky bar, Lounge chairs
- Non-Smoking Environment (smoking only on Sun Deck)
- On board amenities including a Fitness equipment, Beauty and Hair salon, Souvenir shop, Giant Chess game, Bicycles & Shuffle board (ms Amadagio)
- MS TOLSTOY
- Deluxe cruise accommodation in 110 sq.ft. (20% larger than other ships) outside cabins; triple cabins also available based on availability (Cat. D only)
- Deluxe cabins are 220 sq. ft. with sitting area and two beds that can be put together; spacious suites are 330 sq. ft. and have a dayroom, refrigerator and separate bedroom
- Bathrooms feature a separate shower area, which is unique for Russian ships
- Restaurant: Superb dining with all meals included in the elegant restaurant, which accommodates all guests in one seating without fixed seating arrangements.
- Quality wines or juice included with every dinner; complimentary bottled water in every cabin
- Onboard amenities including indoor swimming pool and sauna, Pushkin library, Tchaikovsky Hall, beauty salon and souvenir shop
- Non-Smoking Environment (smoking only on Sun Deck)
- MS TAMR HENNA
- 5-star deluxe Nile cruise
- Deluxe cruise accommodations 190 sq.ft. outside cabins with hotel-style beds that can be set up as 2 twin beds or one large double bed
- Cabin amenities including satellite TV, in-house video channels, mini-bar with safety deposit box
- Internet access, international telephone & fax
- All meals included in the elegant restaurant, which accommodates all guests in one seating with fixed seating arrangements
- Luxurious lounge and bar
- Sun Deck with swimming pool & pool bar
- Daily entertainment onboard including Nubian Show, Galabia Party and Belly Dance
- Onboard amenities including Health Club with sauna, Jacuzzi and massage; library, board games and table tennis; complete laundry facilities and internet access
Amadeus Waterways 21625 Prairie Street Chatsworth, California 91311-5833